July - August 2019

Written by Norm Henry
From his column A Sound Mind

As I write this, our nation is celebrating Memorial Day, a holiday to honor those who gave their lives for our freedom. I am grateful for their sacrifice. Memorial Day has become a day to remember all loved ones we have lost—a day to grieve as well as celebrate. Many of my friends “celebrated” without the presence of their loved ones this year. Some of you did too. I am sorry. God bless.

A long time ago, I was raised in the middle of Kansas. Before each Memorial Day, Mom would cut peonies from her flower beds and keep them in the basement. On “Decoration Day” we would gather the flowers, go to the cemetery, decorate the graves, and remember. And laugh and cry. My grandparents were buried there along with other family members. After we had found the graves, placed flowers on them, and remembered, we would head back to the house to have a meal together—fried chicken and potato salad and baked beans. Mom was a good cook.

As a child, I did not understand the significance of remembering and grieving the loss of loved ones. I do now. We need grieving rituals to help us heal emotionally from our losses. Memorial services, making donations in honor of others, donating flowers to the church, or visiting the cemetery are important. My mom and dad are now buried next to my grandparents.

When you lose someone you love, you grieve. It’s a natural, normal response. The greater your love, the greater your loss, the more intense your grief. Likely, you know the experience: shock, disbelief, confusion, hurt, emptiness, sadness, anxiety, remorse, even anger. Sudden waves of grief flood over us and last longer than we expect. Intense painful feelings are, well, painful, so we try to avoid them. But honest acceptance of our emotions helps with healing.

Grief is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

So what do we do with grief? The phrase “acquainted with grief” was written about the Suffering Servant. I really do not understand all this means, but I know Jesus the Christ understands our pain and wants to share Himself with us in the midst of our sorrow. That may explain why Jesus wept. Paul refers to “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 NIV). So, when we are acquainted with grief, we can turn to God who fully understands what we are going through, and He can handle it.

But how do we move beyond loss? There are no easy fixes. It takes time, effort, God’s grace, and the loving support of others. Grief is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. So when we see someone grieving, we should reach out to them with our energy. Words are optional, but not necessary. Usually, all that’s needed is for us to listen and pray. God is responsible for healing.

God uses friends, family, pastors, counselors, and support groups to bring comfort. My church still has open altars where we can express our grief in the presence of God and others. Even if you are a pastor, I encourage you to take your pain to the Father there in your sanctuary. Your friends will come down and pray with you.

There are many useful books to help those who suffer grief. Personally, when experiencing loss, I read the classical devotional literature written by saints who experienced difficult times and lived deeply with God. Most recently I found comfort as I reread Cowman’s Streams in the Desert. Also, Hannah Whitall Smith’s The God of All Comfort is now on my desk.

After this, I sing songs that bring healing. Last Sunday we sang “When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say It is well…” And if I wonder, does Jesus care? I sing “His heart is touched with my grief.” Or “No one understands like Jesus… when the days are dark and grim.” I usually cry when I sing these songs, but God brings comfort. Great grief demands many tears and much comfort.

Jesus was talking to a dear friend who was grieving the loss of her brother when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” (Jn. 11:25 BSB). Do you believe this? Even in the midst of great grief and great pain, there is great hope! And with the comfort He gives us, we can be used of God to comfort others.

Dr. Norm Henry has served the Church of the Nazarene in numerous capacities as both psychologist and minister.

 

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